Even before Jamila Woods stepped on stage, you could tell it was going to be an incredible night. At first, the Risley dining hall seemed too stiff of a venue for a show that celebrated black artists as healers and protesters (after all, the room is modeled after the Christ Church Refractory at Oxford), but openers Paulitics and SadoSan brought energetic and fun tracks that made the somber portrait of A.D. White peering over their shoulders appear ridiculously irrelevant. Paulitics — Cornell’s own Paul Russell ’19 — blended hip hop and indie rhythms for the perfect intersection of jumping and chill. Dancing without restrain across the stage, Paulitics basked in the fun absurdity of his songs and got the crowd moving. From “college is exploration with ecstasy in between” on his opening song “Hotels” to “I’m falling sideways / I guess that’s all I ever do” on the aptly-titled “Youth,” his lyrics embrace and surrender to the emotional precarity of young-adult lives.
It was St. Patrick’s day and the Haunt is a bar, so there was a crowd. I suspect the two acts performing helped attendance. The Ithaca Bottom Boys were already on stage when I got in, and people were clearly digging their music. The dance floor was packed, but since the Haunt has like three chairs in the entire building, this was not surprising.
Barnes Hall was packed for “Song of the Land: Poems of Ishion Hutchinson,” a performance presented by the Music Department that put Hutchinson’s poetry to compositions by graduate student composers. The performance presented a fusion of the old and the new, incorporating multiple forms of art to deliver a powerful concert. Guest artist Rachel Calloway, a mezzo soprano, sang a dramatic reading that conveyed the emotion communicated in the performance, and did so in a way that drew the audience in to share in the experience with her. This innovative project brought the respective virtues of literature and music into a symbiotic relationship that managed to showcase both the artistry of the music and the postmodern themes of Hutchinson’s poetry. The English department’s Ishion Hutchinson writes narrative poetry that investigates colonialism through his depictions of landscape and the emotional weight of colonial history.
The long and short of the Adam Ezra Group’s concert at the Haunt is that it was a great show that no one really went to. Ten or so fans and at least a few people who came for drinks or dinner contributed to the overall sparse feel of the venue. Somehow they still ran out of chairs and stools. I suppose you’re supposed to dance, but the only people on the floor were a middle aged man and a girl I hope was his daughter. It almost seemed like the Group was trying to compensate for the emptiness of the bar with the fullness of its roots rock sound.
Something special happened last Friday at Bailey Hall — where master violinist, oud player, and composer Simon Shaheen and his ensemble presented their program, Zafir — before a single melody was played. As the musicians were tuning, Shaheen’s brother and fellow oudist Najib asked that the house lights be turned up. “We can love you better this way,” he quipped to the audience, a statement which, after a smattering of laughter, sank in as deeply as any of the music that followed. “No one ever does that,” Shaheen told me when I remarked on it after the show, and by those words closed a circle that I will remember most from among the evening’s plethora of conceptual shapes. None of this is meant to imply that what transpired was any less moving; only that the heartfelt fluidity of it was all the clearer in being so prefaced.
All music is world music. Few know this more genuinely, more instinctively, than Palestinian-born musician Simon Shaheen. Not only because he has worked with such diverse musical champions as Bill Laswell, Quincy Jones, and Muhammad Abdul Wahhab (the Stravinsky of the Arab world), but also because through his cross-cultural visions he has embodied transcend barriers as a plane soars from one continent to another.
As a virtuoso of both the violin and the lute-like oud, the latter a cornerstone of many Arabic soundscapes, one might think he would approach these instruments differently, that their voices — torn by a colonially articulated divide — would sing from exclusive worlds. But in his hands, guided by the vastness of his experience, they are an extension of something that cannot be distinguished by the baggage of association.
The move from a small label to Warner Bros. for the Signs of Light album should leave no fan surprised that the stage production was as polished as the album’s established indie pop sound. Hanging lights and potted ferns were arranged across the stage, like a dreamy NYLON Mag photo shoot, and the draped reflective curtains in the back and twinkly lights atop the antique piano were impressive alone. An impressive light show weaved through the setlist, neon colors (sometimes a complimentary yellow over violet, but always bright) and floor lights always in motion created a stage your eyes couldn’t ignore. A disco ball was even added during the sixth song, and as Josiah and Jonathan crooned the last line of “Let’s be Still” the lights switched off right as the final chord was strummed, a beautiful quiet moment after long projections of light.
Despite the single digit temperatures and the layer of fresh snow on the ground, Cayuga Lodge’s basement was full on Saturday night, thanks to four out of town bands. Ellen Siberian Tiger, Rickie & Aimee, And The Kids and Adult Mom brought a mix of performance styles, though their music was similar and went well together. The show was cohesive, danceable and fun. Ellen Siberian Tiger, a five-piece group out of Philadelphia, opened up the night with sweet rock music that leaned toward folksy, but had its bold moments. Frontwoman and songwriter Ellen Tiberio-Shultz brought powerful vocals, and the whole band brought skilled instrumentation.
The double bass is a perennial fixture of many jazz combos. And yet, how rare to hear it on its own terms. Rarer still in duet with a like partner. The Cornell Concert Series kicked off its spring season by proving that a duo of basses could be more than meets the ear. As twin ramparts of their generation, Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer are as masterful as they come. Where one cut his teeth on the jagged edges of jazz, the other was baptized in classical waters.
There was a great deal of hand-wringing about the dearth of protest art being made over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, and after the election of Donald Trump. These hand-wringers, however, appear not to have looked very hard at all. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met on the frontlines of a 2015 Movement for Black Lives protest. After being pepper sprayed arbitrarily by police at the demonstration, where activists were demanding the release of an illegally detained 14 year old, Reverend Sekou helped wash the toxins out of Hill’s eyes. Several weeks later, they would title themselves Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost, and release their anthemic record, The Revolution Has Come.